When we read this Gospel passage we have to recognise that Jesus is using a figure of speech here, one very common in the Semitic world of his time. He is using exaggeration – hyperbole – to make a special point. Basically he is saying that you may need to take radical action right now to change your attitudes. If those attitudes are getting in the way of true discipleship, then they must go.
The key to remember is that Jesus came to save all humankind – not just Jews; not just Catholics; not just martyrs. It isn’t just the “club” that counts; it is fidelity to the Head of the club that is important! Fidelity and attention to the teachings of the Head should lead the members of the Body to correct behaviour. Moses (Nm 11:25-29) and Jesus (Mark’s gospel) are both pointing to the Giver of gifts, not the group who receives the gifts. There is no room for a mentality of “exclusivism” or isolationism. The world’s bishops at Ecumenical Council Vatican II taught clearly that the one true religion lives in the Catholic and Apostolic Church; but they also taught that all humanity has immunity from coercion by the holders of an “exclusive” mentality (Dignitatus Humane, #1; 1965).
Nor is there room for sinful actions that are not remedied. When studying this passage some years ago, one of my Theological college lecturers suggested some modern parallels to the radical actions proposed by Jesus back in his time. He said, if your TV causes you to sin: turn it off! If your computer causes you to sin: disconnect it! If your magazine subscription causes you to sin, cancel it! If your job position or power causes you to sin, resign! If your bank account causes you to sin, give it away.” In other words, absolutely nothing is worth endangering your eternal life with Jesus Christ!
In today’s Gospel Jesus talked about “hell” and warns his listeners about attitudes and actions that remain unconverted. We must not take his words lightly! We must get to the basis of our problems, and launch a course correction.